Toward the end of 2021, we experienced a rebound in demand for venison from food service. Combined with a good supply of deer and the challenges of a dysfunctional freight sector, the 4th quarter of 2021 was one of the busiest times we have experienced. The result was good sales, happy customers, low stock, and optimism for the year ahead.
Our partners stepped up with innovative sales programmes and efforts to reignite their customers' businesses in the USA. In addition, high prices for other proteins helped support demand for venison as a menu option.
Our relationship with Force of Nature continues to strengthen with their launching of new products. Last year's launch of a Tomahawk venison chop has been an enormous success. We are struggling to supply enough chops! Recently, a breakfast sausage has been added to the venison product offering and is getting great reviews. Substantial sales growth is predicted for the year ahead based on the marketing work that Force of Nature is doing.
In December, we invited suppliers who signed up for our raised without antibiotics programme to a Zoom call with the Force of Nature team. The message was optimism for the growth in demand for premium meat products produced ethically and in environmentally conscious ways.
In Europe, customers in Switzerland reported "an excellent game season" with stock selling out and chilled by air business back to pre-pandemic levels. In Sweden, food service is also back, and retailers have reopened. As a result, sales have picked up, and stock is moving. In China, sales have continued well above 2020 levels. Connections to top-end foodservice customers continue to grow.
DINZ recently confirmed support from the "Market Innovation Fund" for our project to accelerate the launch of Mountain River branded venison in the retail market in Sweden. We have an infrastructure established and ready to introduce the unique attributes of New Zealand farmed venison. The focus is on premium products in premium supermarkets.
Distribution remains a serious headwind. Freight services are dysfunctional, and rates are much too high. In time this will resolve, but like the disruption to foodservice, that is unlikely before the pandemic is no longer a major influence.
Returns to suppliers have recently improved thanks to continued market recovery and a weakening currency. It is important that the recovery is sustainable into the future. That requires strategies that move away from the bust boom-bust cycle. Build back better if you like.
We believe the build-back better opportunity comprises strategies to target high-value foodservice, retail, regional diversity, and product diversity. In addition, it includes a commitment to developing long-term business relationships. Our goal is to be part of an industry that manages the relationships from customers to suppliers to achieve the value our unique product deserves.
The Mountain River farmers have been active and supportive of the sustainable gains strategy. The Mountain River Community in New Zealand and worldwide has also worked closely to address the market movements and the Covid pandemic. Together, by talking and working like this, we have avoided placing undue pressure on the different parts of the value chain. Our overall community message is that patience is paying off.